October 8:  Rebuttal Day

On this date 1917, Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), an English soldier recovering from shell shock, composed the first draft of the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est.” The poem is one of the most vivid, realistic depictions of the horrific trench warfare of World War I and is one of most powerful rebuttals every made to the argument that it is valorous to die for one’s country.

Wilfred Owen plate from Poems (1920).jpgOwen joined the army in 1915, and after he was wounded in combat in France in 1917, he was evacuated to a military hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland.  It is there that he penned the first draft of his poem and sent it to his mother with a note:  “Here is a gas poem done yesterday, (which is not private, but not final).”

The poem begins with an image of the exhausting druggery of life on the front lines:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Druggery and exhaustion then turn to nightmare as Owen describes a gas attack and the horror of watching one of his comrades in arms die before his eyes after too slowly dawning his gas mask:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.       

The words that end the poem, as well as the words in the poem’s title, are Latin, written by the Roman poet Horace.  The first four words, which also serve as the poem’s title, translate:  “It is sweet and glorious.”  The final three words of the poem that complete the exhortation translate: “to die for one’s country.”

The words from Horace that Owen calls “The old Lie” would have been familiar to his readers since they were often quoted during the frenzy of recruiting at the war’s inception.  These Latin words are also inscribed on the wall of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Berkshire, England.  In the United States the words are etched in stone above the rear entrance to the Memorial Amphitheater, near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, at Arlington National Cemetery (1).

After his recovery, Owen rejoined his regiment and returned to the trenches of France.  He was killed in battle on November 4, 1918, one week before the war ended on November 11, Armistice Day.

Owen’s poem is a rebuttal — the presentation of contradictory evidence — to an ancient expression of conventional wisdom, as seen in Horace’s Latin exhortation (here translated into English):  How sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country.

To make his rebuttal, Owen structures his poem inductively, with details that move from specific to the general.  Instead of stating his point (his thesis or claim) at the beginning of the poem in a deductive structure, he, instead, begins with detailed imagery to shows rather than tell.  Owen’s use of such powerful figurative language and sensory imagery create such a horrific picture that Owen hardly needs to state his point.  Instead, he lays out such vivid details that readers can infer the point for themselves; even a reader who does not know Latin would be able to make a logical inference regarding the “old Lie.”

Today’s Challenge:  Rebut With Reality
The practice of questioning conventional is a tradition that dates back to Socrates.  It’s an excellent way to discover ways in which common sense is not always perfectly logical and to explore counter-intuitive insights.  It’s also an excellent way to avoid poor decisions.  In 1962, for example, executives at the Decca Recording Company rejected the Beatles because conventional wisdom led them to conclude that guitar music was on the way out. What are some examples of conventional wisdom (widely accepted truisms) that you have encountered, and how might you challenge conventional wisdom with a detailed, evidence-based rebuttal?  Write a rebuttal in either prose or poetry of a single statement of conventional wisdom, such as, “If you work hard you will succeed” or “Pride goeth before the fall.”  Organize your writing inductively, using specific imagery and figurative language to show your point rather than tell it.  If you are successful, you may not even need to state the central claim of your rebuttal at the end. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  

Conventional Wisdom:  My boss doesn’t motivate me.

Reality rebuttal: He shouldn’t have to. It’s exhausting to hug you, burp you, coddle you, and wind you up every day. The best in any business create more motivation from the inside-out, with a compelling purpose; any external pats on the back they get are appreciated but not necessary for them to get or stay motivated. -Dave Anderson, business consultant and author (3)

 

1-http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/wilfred-owen

2- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dulce_et_Decorum_est

3-http://www.dealerbusinessjournal.com/articleview.php?id=765-83114

 

September 17:  Short Poem Day

William Carlos Williams passport photograph 1921.jpgToday is the birthday of American poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963).  William was born and lived most of his life in Rutherford, New Jersey.  He grew up in a bilingual home; his father was English and his mother was Puerto Rican.  In addition to being an accomplished poet, Williams was also a practicing physician.  His most famous poem is “The Red Wheelbarrow,” which was published in his book Spring and All published in 1923.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens.

William’s poem typifies the imagism, an early 20th century movement in which poets strove to use common language and clear, precise imagery.

Today’s Challenge:  Poetry 100

Find a short published poem (50 words or fewer) by William Carlos William or some other poet.  Memorize and recite the poem, noticing how the poet uses economy of language to make meaning.  Then, compose your own short poem of 50 words or less.

Today’s Quotation:  “Brevity is the soul of wit.”  –William Shakespeare

 

July 10: Clerihew Day

Today is the birthday of Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) whose middle name became a form of light verse.

Bentley made a name for himself with a classic work of detective fiction called Trent’s Last Case, but he is best known for the four-line verse form that bears his middle name: the clerihew.

The clerihew is a biographical form that begins with the subject’s name (or at least contains the name in the first line). It is made up of two rhyming couplets (thus the rhyme scheme is AABB). The only other requirement of the form is that it should be light-hearted or humorous.

Bentley’s Biography for Beginners, published in 1905, was his first collection of verse. He followed this up with additional volumes of verse in 1929 and 1939.

Here are a couple of examples of Bentley’s clerihews:

Edward the Confessor
Slept under the dresser.
When that began to pall,
He slept in the hall.

 

Geoffrey Chaucer
Could hardly have been coarser,
But this never harmed the sales
Of his Canterbury Tales

Today’s Challenge: Terse Verse
Try writing your own clerihews.  Here are some possible topics:
-Write one about a friend, and use it in a birthday card.
-Write about someone in the news.
-Write an autobiographical clerihew as your epitaph.
-Write one about your favorite fictional character.

Here are a couple of examples:

Samuel Backman
Took on Superman.
It was a long night.
He forgot his Kryptonite.

 

Prince Hamlet was sad
Because his uncle killed his dad.
His father’s ghost appeared to him after dark.
“Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark!”

 

Joey McCool
Was a pretty big fool.
One day he fell asleep at school.
And drowned in a pool of his own drool.

Quotation of the Day:  Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory. -Benjamin Disraeli

1 – Brandreth, Gyles. The Book of Classic Puzzles and Word Games. London: Chancellor Press, 1985.

2 – Holman, C. Hugh and William Harmon. A Handbook to Literature (Sixth Edition). New York: Macmillian, 1992.